Healing Trauma Through Writing

Elizabeth Pope, Writing Consultant

Writing is academic, scholarly, and creative in genres of poetry, prose, fiction, or creative non-fiction. Writing is publishable, presentable at conferences, or shoved into a drawer never to look at again. As a woman and first year Ph.D. student with an M.A. in English Literature and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, I value the integrity of writing as an art form. At the same time, I honor writing as an inclusive act of expression that extends beyond degree, career, or publication. Writing held my hand through tough times, and it is this practice of writing as an act of healing that transcends art, craft, or accolade. Writing is primordial as hieroglyphics and essential as meditation. Writing is also a friend, prayer, and eternal question.  

On February 11, 2022, I began to write again for the first time since the pandemic began after graduating in the summer of 2020 with my M.F.A. and entering the chaos of new systems of public virtual schooling for my daughters, while my husband worked as an essential worker within Covid-units, Covid-tent construction, and Covid-vaccine construction as an electrical contractor within hospitals. In February, I began a recovery journey with my daughter after her spinal fusion, years of physical therapy with Norton Neuroscience and Spinal Rehabilitation Center, and preparatory surgery appointments at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. When her spinal curve entered a degree that was detrimental to her heart and lungs, during the height of the pandemic, we had to wait until she was of age for vaccines to proceed with the spinal fusion with the intention of limiting possible complications. I was not able to write through this time of preparing for her surgery. It was hard to comprehend her vulnerability, complexity of the surgery, and pain of her recovery. It was not until her time in the hospital that I was able to speak about the actual surgery, ask her team of doctors about anatomy, and specifics of what occurred during her spinal fusion. I began to write about the process of her immediate post-surgery in the hospital during times that she slept without interruption from nurses, pain teams, or doctors. During these quiet and dim moments in the hospital room, I wrote about uncertainties, reliefs from a successful surgery, anatomy of the spine (an aspect that I was unable to confront until post-surgery was successful), and the hardships of seeing someone that I love in immense pain.

What I wrote in the late hours of the hospital room was what I was unable to verbalize with doctors, nurses, family, and friends. I wrote about the relief that overshadowed lack of sleep, uncertainty of home recovery, and life after post-recovery. In a pandemic and post-pandemic world the hospital is a healing but isolating place. It provides a quiet introspection that is lonely if an outlet is not provided. Writing was the healing outlet for me as art therapy was a healing outlet for my daughter and other patients. I was not singular in writing as a method of connecting with presence of the tasks at hand, fears of the possibility of what might have gone wrong, what was going wrong, or as a way to connect to support systems who were unable to visit the hospital during the de-escalation of heightened Covid-19 concerns. CaringBridge is a media outlet that is provided to parents, guardians, and caregivers who have patients within hospital settings.  

There are nights you can see screens within patient’s rooms glowing from parents updating their CaringBridge accounts for friends, family, or their child’s friends—who are also support systems outside of the hospital. Time seems to evaporate inside rooms of a hospital. Days are nights and nights are days. Moments are fast paced or desolate when the child is resting. It is in those quiet moments that writing in a journal, social media outlet, text, email, or mode of connection like CaringBridge provides parents moments of reflection and expression after hours, days, weeks, months, or years of attempting to remain calm and collected through high-stress environments. The act of putting what is unspoken to paper allows the stress of an experience to transform from what is carried, or what is afraid to be said, into an acceptance that is tangible. Writing, in this way, is a reconciliation with traumas that are unrecognizable and carried through complicated and demanding situations. Writing in this way is also a reflection, retrospection, and method of measuring what is overcome.

Writing, in a recovery or hospital setting, allows for articulate and direct conversations with doctors, teams, and nurses. Writing allowed me to move past emotional responses of worry, frustration, and sadness to arrive at rationality that allowed for focus on immediate questions such as: if her pain management is not working what other option might be enacted immediately? Writing is an act of presence and hope that if the trauma is shared—even if it is an unrecognizable trauma—it is no longer a secret, fear to harbor, or shame to suppress. In this way writing is an act of healing.

I did not keep any of the writings from the surgery, in hospital, recovery, or homecare recovery. I erased it all. Her struggle to process her own traumatic event was not something that I wanted her to relive or that I wanted to relive. Although she is fully recovered and the surgery is a distant memory, there was a time when our inability to communicate shared fears and grief was stalled. After the experience and anticipation of the surgery, writing offered moments of connection to what was difficult, hopes of a better life for someone that I loved, and reflections of strengths that I witnessed in my child. I wrote to remember moments when she encountered specific obstacles with bravery, such as when she began to walk again downstairs (one step, two feet at a time) when she walked long distances outside of a wheelchair, and when she ran and slid into a homerun in her softball league this summer. I wrote to remind her that obstacles in life are inevitable, she overcame them once, so in the future she will overcome them again. I wanted to remember moments that she did not give up, overcame something hard, and moments that it was important to simply listen and not speak except into paper and ink.

What’s Writing to You? The Role of Writing in Living

Kendyl Harmeling, Assistant Director For Graduate Student Writing

As Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing here at the University of Louisville Writing Center, I work at both the Belknap and Health Sciences campuses and frequently have conversations about writing with undergrads, grad students, faculty, and staff alike. In these interdisciplinary discussions, I often find myself told: “Well, we just don’t do a lot of writing in my field.” For a while, my response to this idea was to shrug and accept that, sure, maybe some fields are less writing-intensive than others. My response was not ideal for a number of reasons, but mainly because I was regularly shrugging off an opportunity to question the function of writing, its definitions, and how it changes across communities. Now in my response to this situation I ask: so, what is writing to you?

This languaging shift occurred for me when I was talking with a graduate student in the Dental program earlier this year, who was narrating their program path to me. They kept referring to their probable lack of Writing Center use because there was just no writing in their graduate program; no writing in a program means, of course, no need to visit the University Writing Center. But I was struck – how does a terminal degree program require no writing for their graduate students? I thought there must be something like writing going on there. To fill in the blanks, I began to think about the professional life of a practicing dentist and a flurry of questions came to me: Do dentists write? What do dentists write? What is writing to a dentist? And why do dental graduate students believe they don’t (or won’t) do it? Where’s the disconnect and what caused it?

I happen to know a handful of dentists and can confidently say that dentists write. Dentists are writers. Writing is a tool that dentists use, just like a tooth scraper or floss. My dentist writes me a prescription when necessary. He writes a regular newsletter for all his patients, outlining changes to insurance policies or scheduling systems. He publishes peer-reviewed articles in the major journals of his field on new technologies and techniques. He also writes me (and all his patients) holiday cards. Isn’t this all writing? What is writing if it’s not what my dentist does? What my dentist writes certainly looks different from what I write as a graduate student in the humanities and as a writing teacher, but the differences in the qualities and functions of our writing do not negate either of our claims to being a writer.  Our shared claims to being someone who does writing, for whom writing is a tool of our professions. The face of the writing might change—what its forms, functions, and goals are—but what remains is that we are writers writing.

If you read our Program Assistant Maddy’s blogpost from last week, you’ll learn that if you come to the UofL Writing Center, we’ll call you a “writer.” She does a lovely job writing about why we use this term, and the emotional state that you might find yourself in upon being given a title (like “writer”) that you might not feel comfortable claiming. This is the same response, to me, as when people tell me they don’t do a lot of writing in their field – there is a disconnect between what the general idea of “writing” is and the thing which people do, every day, in their professions and lives. I see this across stations and disciplines, from faculty and staff to graduate students to undergrad students in my English 101 classes. There is trepidation in claiming writing as a tool beyond the humanities, but the reality is quite different. You are a writer, and you do writing. You write, your field writes, and I’ll prove it.

Like my dentist who writes, although who might not claim the title “writer” over the title “dental professional,” we are all writing in our fields and in our lives. From my experience, this disconnect between identifying and claiming writing as a tool of our professions – of our identities in many ways – might come from the lofty myth of writing. This idea that writing must have its head in the clouds with its feet off the ground – that it must loft our better angels of ideas high into the sky where only theorists and artists can find it – is misplaced and misguided. Writing is a tool, and sometimes it can be lofty and heavy-hitting, but sometimes it’s just a vehicle for communication. When I write poetry, I feel like a “writer,” but, when I write text messages, or social media posts, or when I write an email to my boss – I am also a writer in these moments, a writer doing writing. And so are you.

A lawyer will tell you that writing is an essential tool in their profession, likewise a teacher or a professional writer. But so will hospital workers and medical professionals. Nurses doing rounds on call have to write PICO reports of their patients; similarly, they write prescriptions, emails to insurance companies or the billing department, and so many other micro-genres that populate the communicative avenues of their disciplines. A hospital administrator needs to write board reports, grant proposals, budgets, etc. A custodial-professional needs to write order lists and take inventory. An engineer needs to write grant proposals, blueprints, and proofs. A software designer writes code. A postal worker writes “Sorry I missed you” stickers when trying to deliver packages when you’re not home. And these are only examples of mono-modal genres.

None of these genres are any more “writing” than another. Their variance is part of what makes writing such an incredible, essential tool. Lofty or not, writing is about communication – and communication is a fundamental human experience. So, come by the University Writing Center to have a fundamentally human experience, to talk through what writing means to you, what it looks like, and what it does. More so, come by to talk about how the UWC can help you build a relationship with your and your field’s writing. Challenge yourself to question and analyze the role writing plays in your profession or program. Maybe, even, write about it.

Some reflective questions to begin analyzing your relationship with writing in your professional and personal life:

  1. What do you imagine the definition of “writing” is – what elements of a text must be present for it to be considered “writing”?
    1. Where and when did you learn this?
    1. What is the relationship between when/how this idea of “writing” formed for you and how it frames your relationship to writing today? In other words, how were you socialized into this view of “writing” and how has that socialization impacted how you view “writing” today?
  2. What genres (categories) of “writing” do you interact with daily – if we can accept that “writing” can mean any written (alphabetic or otherwise) communication?
  3. How is writing integrated into the systems you work within? How does it affect operations and functions of your workplace/space? What about in your personal life?
  4. Would you call yourself a writer – considering your creation of text with these genres and conventions? Why or why not?
    1. How many times do you have to write, and in how many ways, before you can call yourself a writer?

Of Course I’m a Writer: How Feedback Helps Shape Writing Identity

Maddy Decker, Program Assistant, Senior

I always hesitate to call myself a writer despite having wanted to be one since elementary school. It feels like I’m pretending to be something that I’m not, but I am a writer. I write. It’s that simple. Sometimes I just need some help reminding myself of that.

This past summer, I attended a week-long workshop as part of completing the requirements for my Creative Writing MFA. I was excited for the opportunity to get back in a workshop, but a part of me dreaded going. Since my program is low-residency, I was nervous about meeting my classmates and professors face-to-face for the first time. Additionally, the last workshop I had participated in made me a little hesitant about putting my work back out there. I dragged my feet while preparing until I finally speed-wrote two new flash pieces to bring with me, stuffing them into my overcrowded backpack and trying to pretend they didn’t exist.

I arrived at Chateau Lesbian (my friend and her wife refuse to let me call their apartment anything else), rolled my suitcase into the guest room, and then immediately left for my first required event. I was joining the second week of the residency, while most people had also attended the first week. It seemed like everyone already knew each other, and while they were all kind and welcoming, I was still intimidated. How would we work together in class? Would they still seem so nice after we picked apart each other’s stories?

I arrived the next day and tried to stay calm, but my efforts were thwarted when I abruptly remembered that my piece was up first for workshop. I was overwhelmed with concern about how weird and rushed and personal my writing was, but it was time to confront my fears. When prompted, I began reading: “This is called The Salami Kids…”

Workshop. Was. AMAZING! My classmates were generous with their feedback, both praise and criticism, and I loved every minute of it. My pen begged for mercy as I scribbled down notes and ideas for revision. Suddenly, I could see how to take everything a little bit further and tighten up the loose ends. My piece became more than just a page of words I’d thrown together to meet the submission deadline: it had potential, and I wanted to keep working on it. I felt a thousand times better. I felt like a writer.

Working the front desk at the University Writing Center, I often hear from other people who insist that they are not writers. I hear things like “I’m not a writer” or “I’m just doing this for class.” When I hear this, I respond, “Of course you’re a writer. You’re writing in here!” This doesn’t always seem to make a difference, but it’s important to me that I say it anyway.

When you visit the Writing Center, you are a writer, no matter what kind of writing you are working on. This is why you will often hear us refer to you as “writers” rather than clients or students. We want to reinforce the idea that you are someone who writes, and that you are allowed to call yourself a writer. In fact, this is something that we cover at orientation at the beginning of the year, because one of our top priorities is helping you to gain confidence and agency in your writing and your identity as a writer.

I have a BA and an MA in English, and I’m halfway through my Creative Writing MFA. I’ve written countless papers and stories of my own, and I’ve helped with so many more during the three years that I worked as a writing consultant. My work has been published, and I’ve even received awards for a couple of my short stories. When I step back and look at it objectively, it seems obvious to me that I’m a writer, but I still regularly face the fear of using that word for myself.

I share this to show that even someone with years of writing experience is still scared of being a “writer.” This is something that I confront daily, both for myself and with the writers who visit my desk. There is no cure-all, but there are steps you can take to grow your confidence and foster your writing identity. One of the most beneficial things that you can do is share your work with others. This helps you to become more involved with your process, as well as to take ownership of your words. Also, it’s exciting! Thinking out loud in collaboration with feedback from others can be so generative, and you’ll come up with ideas you hadn’t thought of before.

Read your work to your friends, share it with a writing group, or visit one of our consultants at the University Writing Center! We welcome all UofL students, staff, and faculty, and we work with all kinds of writing, at any point in the writing process. I hope that you visit and that when your appointment is over, you leave thinking, Of course I’m a writer!

The Shape of Writing: Halloween and Writing Go Hand-in-Hand

Andrew Messer, Writing Consultant

There was a conversation I had with Dr. Bronwyn Williams, the director of our community of writing consultants, where he told me that all spy movies are literacy narratives. Well, that got me thinking, truly thinking—and this may very well have been the first time I had a truly deep thought in months, coming fresh off of summer break at the time—about what other stories are technically literacy narratives. Some other types of action movies, sure. Superheroes? It’s possible to make that argument. However, fate would grant me a serendipitous revelation just as it was time to write up a blog post of my own. What better day to talk about the literacy of horror movies than today, Halloween? And better yet, is there a more apt movie to talk about than John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978)? I think not.

We find literacy in Carpenter’s film in a variety of ways, most notably in the question of why Michael Myers wears his signature mask. There are a myriad of answers, and one of them is that he is trying to hide. The movie begins with Michael hiding from his sister before he, well… you know what happens. Michael isn’t just hiding his face though: he is hiding his ability to be read. He withholds from both the viewer and the other characters of the film the ability to be read and understood. It takes great effort, strife, horror, as well as some sleuthing for the characters to finally track down Michael from his old home to the killings he gets up to throughout the film. It takes a great deal of intellectual and psychological literacy for the doctor to track Michael across Haddonfield to his showdown with Laurie Strode.

Now, you might be wondering—I know I sure was—what has this to do at all with writing or writing center work. Great question! All of these aspects of literacy shown in Halloween started to remind me of something oddly familiar—the writing process itself. Fellow horror buffs may recall, but in the script for Carpenter’s film, Myers is referred to as the Shape; I think this is an apt metaphor for beginning the writing process, for what is the beginning of a draft but a vague shape? The Shape of drafting can be many things: procrastination, intimidation, a confusing prompt or topic, or even something as scary as a new or unfamiliar genre. The Shape finds a way to haunt all of us when we start the drafting process, and it tries to turn us into Bob if we let it.

Starting a paper is much like the events of this film: scary and disjointed without a lot to keep the threads together. Sometimes the meaning and message remains masked, if you’ll excuse the pun. Sometimes it can be something you feel like running from, avoiding it until the last minute. Sometimes you must be Laurie Strode and—metaphorically, of course—stab at your paper wildly with a knitting needle until something comes out loosely approximating what you are trying to accomplish. Either way, the Shape must be confronted to move forward, and often that is done by looking back on what you have accomplished in the past. Relying on your knowledge and the skills in literacy and writing that you have developed over many years of being a thoughtful and insightful human being.

And insightful you are. You are a writer and a reader all-in-one, and just like Laurie you will figure out what the Shape is. Though you may not always unmask it in the end, and sometimes when you think you have finished a draft the Shape will haunt you still. Yet again, just like Laurie, you are not alone. If need be, let the Writing Center be your Loomis: let us help you uncover the Shape of your writing because there is no need to face it alone. Writing, much like surviving a slasher, is a collaborative process—oftentimes taking much more planning and effort to overcome than previously thought possible. But we are here, and we know the Shape just as you do.

This all makes it seem so horrifying, and perhaps this analogy might scare you away from ever writing again. However, dear reader, if you are anything like me, then you will understand that pit in your stomach when you start to write something new. The Shape looming oppressively near you, watching from the corner and remaining masked and hidden from view. Yet, you must remember to always carry the will of Laurie Strode inside you. Clutch tightly to that knitting needle, cower for a moment if you need to, but in the end we all must face the Shape, and more often than not, we win in the end.

Happy Halloween, and happy writing!

Halloween. Directed by John Carpenter, Compass International Pictures, 1978.

Sustainability is More Than Science: Exploring Climate Change Education Across Cultures

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

The weather report: Today in Louisville it is partly cloudy and 68 degrees. In Manila, Philippines it is 88 with thunderstorms. In Graz, Austria it is cloudy and 60 degrees, in Rustenburg, South Africa it 85 and sunny and in Sydney, Australia it is 63 and raining. If you are teaching a classroom of students about climate change in any of these places, their immediate experience of climate will be the transitory weather they see out the window. Yet, from the perspective of the global climate emergency, things look quite different. In Louisville and in Graz, there have been increases in flooding and heat emergencies in the summers. The Philippines continues to be battered by stronger and more frequent typhoons. The countryside around Sydney still shows scars of the unprecedented wildfires of 2020 and, in Rustenburg, increasing heat and drought conditions mean that sometimes students are sent home from school when there is no water.

Louisville students talk with South African students by video

Climate change is simultaneously global in scope, yet experienced locally in quite different ways. From the perspective of education, it can be a challenge to convey to students how what is happening to the climate is more than the immediate weather out the window, but also not as abstract as an image of a polar bear on an iceberg. Currently I’m involved in a climate change education project focused on thinking of new ways of learning – and writing – about climate change across cultures. This interdisciplinary education project is initially focused on connecting middle-school students from around the world share what they are learning – and experiencing – about how climate change affects their local communities. The researchers and teachers involved in the pilot stage of this Global Climate Change Education Project – from Austria, South Africa, the Philippines, Australia, and the US – will gather here at the University of Louisville next week for a planning conference funded by a Spencer Foundation grant. The goal of the project is to help students learn about climate change not only from the perspective of science, but also how it affects, and is affected by, history, politics, culture, and the media. We hope that making these kinds of human connections across cultures can make climate change seem less abstract and, as a result, can lead to a greater sense of empathy and an increased commitment to the behavioral change and political action required to address the climate emergency.

The project brings together teachers and researchers from the sciences, education, and social sciences, and all have crucial roles to play in our planning. But, from my perspective as a literacy researcher and writing teacher, I also see writing and communication as key parts both of how students learn about climate change, and how they will communicate with people in their communities and with their peers across cultures. Part of what intrigues me about working on this project are the interdisciplinary possibilities. The science part of it is crucial, of course, but issues of sustainability are also about culture and community. And our explorations of culture and community are through science, but also through stories, history, poetry, images, film, and more. If we are to communicate and build relationships across cultures, we need to understand more about place and identity, and how those shape both science and our daily lives. What’s more, there is substantial research that indicates that what persuades people to act on social issues is not only facts and evidence-based reasoning, but also narratives, emotions, and relationships.

So I’ve found myself thinking about how science, art, narrative, oral history, poetry, and more might be brought together in climate change education, both in this project and others. This raises questions that are shaping many of my research and teaching interests right now. How is sustainability more than science? How must we also explore and examine issues of culture, community, history, and relationships in terms of climate change? What experiences and relationships motivate people toward action in a given context? How do we promote agency in students? And how is all of that mediated through interpreting and creating texts – both in print, but also in sound, video, images and other media and modes?

In exploring these, and other questions about location, culture, and sustainability, I am also interested in how we can use digital technologies to create these kinds of texts and opportunities for communication. We’ve already been doing some pilot projects among the students involving writing, video, and other forms of communication. Down the line we may explore other ideas, such as possibly creating a digital repository of student climate change narratives, interviews, podcasts and more, where people can upload video or audio or print and then they are available to others for teaching and research. Sharing this kind of writing would be another way to get students communicating about local knowledge across cultures and, I hope, increasing knowledge and empathy.

We are in the early days of this project, but I am eager for the conversations and work we will engage in next week in the planning conference and to think about how writing and literacy will play a role in climate change education going forward. As a teacher and researcher I have always been interested in the knowledge people have in their daily lives and how we draw on that, and connect it, to issues and ideas in school. I believe that, to engage in kind of broad-based change needed to address the climate emergency we need to explore new perspectives for that are grounded in local knowledge, languages, and cultures. We’re taking what we hope will be a helpful steps next week for learning and action across communities and cultures. Stay tuned.

Dr. Strangeword or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love to Write (Allusion)

Wendell Hixson, Writing Consultant

There is no need to be an “expert!” Far too many writers, readers, students, and scholars see writing as requiring the gravest of literary circumstances. Many believe that writing must possess grandiloquence, gravitas, gratitude, grammaticality, and—especially—graftiquilimentiploricissitudinousness (neologism; I trust you’ll look up everything in italics that you don’t know). However, the magical qualities of writing, of your voice lie not in some Ivory Tower, swirling in the minds of some rhetorical warlock or literary lich (alliteration), but at your very fingertips. The unhindered imagination can create entertaining and enjoyable examples of writing without a need for scholarly expertise.

As two francophone thinkers posited, “Literary history seems deliberately to ignore writing as practice, as work, as play” (Thomas and Motte 98). And they’re, frankly, dead on. I live by the mantra that one should have fun with their writing. Fun can be the driving farce (malapropism) behind the most successful research and prose, as fun is usually the best motivator. Sometimes the very essence of rewarding, valuable writing is held not in researched ideas, dense argumentation, or scholarly opinion. Sometimes the very essence of rewarding writing is just having a chuckle at a simple and silly play on words. And sometimes you may end up learning the difference between the endless devices and playful maneuvers found within the English language, and the unique devices within other languages as well.

Perhaps you’ll come across words like (and, yes, these are all real) lipogram, chiasmus, petrosomatoglyph, epizeuxis, bdelygmia, clerihew, butyraceous, syzygy, ekphrasis, bibliobibuli, zeugma, absquatulate, phantasmagoric, lugubriousness, floccinaucinihilipilification, hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, and jib. Perhaps you’ll even use them. This is the fun of language: the exploration and wonder of the gift we’ve so luckily evolved. It operates much like a magic, a power with which we can create meaning and reality out of nothingness. Most any sounds, amalgam of letters, and absurd or beautiful stories develop our very understanding of this powerful tool (e.g. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows or Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons). Language is a boundless, bottomless ocean that we are rarely encouraged to truly navigate. Language can be morphed into humorous contests, such as Monty Python’s Word Association Football or Rosencrantz & Guildenstern’s Questions Game (both of which I recommend watching). Language can be manipulated for the sake of art, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s extended vocabulary or Lewis Carroll’s fantastical prose (read “The Bells” and/or “Jabberwocky”). Language can be invented for the sake of worldbuilding, such as Star Trek’s Klingon or Tolkien’s Middle-earth (which inspired real world uses of these languages). Succinctly, it makes us feel. And that is a power that should be embraced, nurtured, protected, and proliferated.

Now, this is not to advocate for disregarding formal academic writing as a whole. This is not a call to challenge a professor for stifling your creativity. There is a time and a place for pure fun and freedom, and—really—a research paper, a dissertation, or a scientific journal are not always the most appropriate sites for Tolkien’s Elvish or the word “lugubrious.” That’s okay. It can be symbiotic. We language-users still have an obligation and an ability to balance our teaching and communication with our capacity to entertain. Sometimes that means foregoing a pun or poetry (wordplay), but it doesn’t mean foregoing interest in your ideas and how you write them (rhetorical devices). Our world can be a worrisome place that requires our attention, compassion, and power whenever we can lend it. And, hopefully, we can use our voices to mend relationships, to empower those we care about, to stand against and maybe inspire those who feel silenced. To use your voice for good is all one can ask. So, I truly wish that your ongoing adventure through language brings you a greater sense of confidence in yourself, and I hope it also brings an appreciation for how genuinely, innately powerful our voices really are. And that doesn’t mean it’ll ever be perfect. As I said, you don’t need to be an “expert.” You just have to be human.

Thomas, Jean-Jacques and Warren F. Motte join. “Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature.” South Atlantic Review 53 (1988): 185.

Indigenous Literatures and Writing Histories

Charlie Ward, Writing Consultant

Land is sacred. It provides us with nourishment and safe keeping: our strongest relationships are born from shared homes, gently rocking us to sleep like a mother and her newborn. We cannot survive without the land; yet, this land has not always been ours.

October 10 is Indigenous Peoples’ Day: an observation and commemoration of Native and Indigenous histories and cultures. This is the second year the United States has officially observed the holiday; however, its creation spans back as far as 1977. The International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas is attributed with first suggesting its observation to combat the revisionist history presented during Colombus Day celebrations.

Fundamental misunderstandings of Indigenous history permeate the cracks of western academia. Many are unable to identify the cultural nuances of the Indigenous peoples, as well as their influence on writing and literature. Consider your knowledge of Indigenous history: what land is Louisville, Kentucky is on? Are you able to name the tribes of the Anishinaabe? Why do some people use Indigenous versus Native American versus American Indian?

Here are the answers:

1.) Louisville, Kentucky is on Adena, Cherokee, Hopewell, Miami, Osage, Seneca-Iroquois, and Shawnee land.

2.) The Anishinaabeg consist of the Algonquin, Mississaugas, Nipissing, Odawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi peoples.

3.) Various names exist for various reasons. American Indian has been reclaimed by many Native and Indigenous peoples. Native American was coined around the 1960s as a response to anti-Indigenous racism. Indigenous considers the origins and the claim to land that Indigenous peoples hold. First Nations, Aboriginal peoples, and Native Canadians may also appear in works regarding discourse around Indigenous peoples of Canada. You may notice that I switch back and forth between my terminology in this piece, but identity is preferential and personal: always ask before you ascribe a label.

How many of these did you all get right—even partially? Western academia has long withheld Indigenous history from us: we are not the first to be required to learn these things in our own time, and we will not be the last.

What does this all have to do with writing? Well, a lot.

As I mentioned previously, Indigenous culture has influenced writing and literature. The oral traditions of many tribes aided in the development of literature as a shared medium. People gathered to share many fictional narratives, characterized by experiences with the metaphysical world and transformative identities; the indulgent details furthered the performance of storytelling. Indigenous myths and legends explored the role of animals, one’s relationship to the earth, and morality. For example, Ababinili And The Humans is a Chickasaw myth about how humans came to be. The first line mentions the “moon, sun, wind, rainbow, thunder, and fire”—they don’t exist as symbolic figures, but instead as characters that propel the plot.

While it was important for generations to pass down oral traditions, colonization hierarchized written works. Settlers found writing to be indicative of a more enlightened people, i.e., a more western-ized people. I think it’s good to note that Indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada experienced colonialism differently; my historical account is simplified, but it’s necessary to understand that tradition was influenced by outside pressures. In addition, settlers imposed barriers to publishing for Indigenous authors—barriers that Indigenous authors broke and continue to combat today.

Looking at the historical development of writing and literature can aid us in our understanding of the current climate. For Indigenous peoples, writing and oral tradition were both a form of resistance. Writing combated settler’s notions of civilization, revealing rich cultural narratives; oral tradition built the foundation of writing, as well as uniting community and family. I think miseducation can prevent us from viewing Indigenous history as something innate to the development of literature—Indigenous cultures have existed longer than we know, therefore it’s right to assume that they have an influence on the way we write.

Colonialism’s desire to view Indigenous culture as anything beyond uncivilized pervades in modern discourses: we turn ourselves away from oral communication and struggle to acknowledge its importance in cultivating ideas and identity. Talking builds communities, unites enemies, and keeps us mentally sound. What’s better than discussing your ideas with a friend before writing them down?

We see imagery from Indigenous literature in contemporary narratives: heroes, villains, and moral quandaries are more popular than ever! Indigenous writing isn’t just mythological tales, but shared discourses. There There by Tommy Orange, The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich, and Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson all explore ideas of community and identity; they’re read by audiences world-wide, and well worth a read.

When teaching in the writing center, I think it’s important to keep the historical and cultural identities of our students in mind. The priorities of western academia aren’t always going to be the priorities of writer’s—and that’s fine! We should also be looking at the influences of non-western and non-white people on writing: we owe a lot of respect and recognition.


Bibliography

“Ababinili and the Humans.” Accessed October 7, 2022. https://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/Ababinili_And_The_Humans-Chickasaw.html. “Indigenous Writing since 1867: Once Neglected Now Celebrated.” Indigenous Writing since 1867: Once Neglected Now Celebrated – Indigenous Studies – Simon Fraser University.

Put Your Heart in It: Creative Writing’s Place in an Academic Space

Liz Soule, Assistant director

After a two-year break from creative writing, I stumbled my way back into it through fan fiction this past March. Although I would never judge another writer for finding inspiration in fan works, I confess feeling a bit ashamed by my own admission. Halfway through a 2,000 word story exploring a deeply emotional conflict between two characters that were not my own creation, I started to wonder: shouldn’t my time be taken up by more intellectual pursuits? I could have been reading for a class or starting a paper. Wasn’t this a waste of precious time and mental energy?

Whether you’re writing that crossover fanfic you’ve had percolating in your brain for the past six months or even something more traditional, I am sure that you, too, have wondered where your creative writing endeavors fit in within the grand scheme of your academic journey. In an academic culture that focuses so intently on making the grade, it is hard to see the benefits of any pursuit that does not result in some kind of marked increase in your GPA.

But if writing pedagogy tells us anything, it is that writing processes extend far beyond the context of one assignment, genre, or even discipline. Academic writing and creative writing doubtlessly have a symbiotic relationship. But what does this look like? How can we rationalize our continued pursuit of creative writing?

Hoping to learn more about this, I spoke with two of my colleagues at the University Writing Center, Maddy Decker and Andrew Messer. Maddy serves as the senior program assistant in the University Writing Center, and is pursuing an MFA in creative writing at Eastern Kentucky University. She also leads the creative writing group! Andrew is a writing consultant, and is pursuing an MA in English at the University of Louisville. Both are prolific creative writers! In brief interviews, I asked them how creative writing and academic writing have interacted for them.

For Andrew, writing creatively has revealed new ways to express himself across the board. “Creative writing helped me find a voice,” he explained. That voice carries through to his academic assignments, allowing him room to creatively approach essays and apply his unique style to many different kinds of writing. He intentionally practices this, developing creative ways to complete assignments each time he gets one.

Similarly, Maddy describes creative writing as granting her “a little bit more flexibility.” Like Andrew, she doesn’t feel locked into a particular formula when it comes to academic writing. Rather, the perspective she’s gleaned through creative writing gives her “a different idea of what forms academic writing can take.” She also brings her own stylistic flare to her academic work through the use of heightened figurative language.

Likewise, the two have found that academic writing can influence their creative processes. Andrew’s experiences with writing academically, particularly in composition courses, made him become much more aware of the role of audience in any piece of writing. “I became a lot more aware of the external audience and now try to be cognizant that people are going to read it and they need to understand,” he said. When it comes to creative writing, this means making what is implicit more explicit.

Speaking on the influence of academic courses in her creative writing, Maddy said: “They feed each other a lot.” She has used the material from courses, such as a forensic anthropology course, to create new content. Some of her current projects stem from past courses she took during her undergraduate career.

Andrew and Maddy aren’t alone in feeling this way. For me, I have found that creative writing helps me gain momentum. I put aside my perfectionism to write silly stories about characters, and it remains suspended as I transition into other activities. Starting an assignment is always a struggle for me, but when I begin with creative writing, I feel like the words fly out of my fingers and onto the page. And, perhaps more importantly, my experiences with creative writing have taught me to be open to revision. I know that I can (and should) write, rewrite, and rewrite again.

In closing out our interviews, I asked both Andrew and Maddy to share any words of wisdom they had for maintaining creative writing endeavors while in school. After all, even if you know the benefits of writing creatively, it can be hard to make the space for it.

Andrew recommended taking literature courses, if possible, because “you’ve gotta read for those courses, so you’re still expanding your repertoire.” He also shared a nugget of wisdom from his creative writing professors: “If you wanna write, then read!”

Maddy insisted that writers make time for creative writing, even if it’s in small ways. She advocated for writing whatever comes to you. “Having that interest stay alive is the priority. Just make sure your heart is still in it,” she said.

I hope that you find validation in what we’ve shared here today. Know that if you’re ever in doubt of the place your creative writing has within your process or program, here at the University Writing Center, we are happy to help you build those connections and find your flow.

Interested in writing creatively? Join us at the Creative Writing Group, led by Maddy! Meetings are held in person in the University Writing Center (Ekstrom 132) from 5:30 – 7pm on the following Mondays:

October 10th

November 14th

December 5th

For more information, please email us at writing@louisville.edu or call us at 502-852-2173.

Rewriting How We Think About the Writing Center Experience

Katie Frische, Writing Consultant

Imagine that one English teacher back in your school days that everyone always affectionately called Mrs. Red Pen. I bet this brings you back to some fun moments of dropping your paper on the desk of the teacher and walking out as she starts to work her magic with that red pen, and you can’t help but feel a little bit bitter as that was your hard work. It’s this Mrs. Red Pen that we all seem to have in our memories, be they good or bad, which has led us to think that our college University Writing Center is the same way: full of Mr. And Mrs. Pens.


However, as one who works currently in a writing center, I have to say this stereotype is a little bit silly, and I can promise that you won’t find a red pen in sight of our writing center. In fact, marking with a red pen is often known as editing, which takes away ownership from the writer’s work and puts control into the hand of the editor, which is always frustrating. This frustration isn’t something you will find in the smiling faces of the consultants within a writing center as they help you learn how to become better writers by tossing away the old idea of editing.


Within our writing center, you are the one who gets to take control of where your story goes, of what you think needs changing in your work, and we are always here to help suggest strategies that will turn your first draft into a final draft. While we are not miracle workers, and it’s always best to bring your writing in early, we are always happy to work with anyone who needs help with their writing, be it personal such as poems, creative writing, or an academic paper that is just putting you through the wringer. These are all things a writing center can help you with because ultimately, we are here for you. The true purpose of the writing center is to be there for the campus community as both a guide for writing and as a friendly face to help you take on the college experience.


It’s this idea of a friendly face, one of your peers, that makes the writing center what it is and what it is not: the growling old teacher voice of Mrs. Red Pen back from your school days. I promise you we are not here to relive your old haunts but to share a few of our own stories of Mrs. Red Pens and help you to take your voice to the next level through writing. Your voice is important, and our goal at the University Writing Center is to make that voice heard through your work so that people can better understand what you value. As people begin to understand you through your writing, you will find that this opens up a lot of opportunities for you. Written communication is of the essence, and developing that within a cheerful space is why I encourage everyone to visit a writing center.


And while I know there are many opinions about what goes on in a writing center, I must tell you the “red pen experience” is one that most of us don’t want to relive. We want to see a smiling face greet us upon opening that door on the way to becoming better writers. As such, I encourage you to think positively about the writing center experience and realize that we are always going to be here for you.

Always reflecting,
Consultant Katie Fritsche

That’s All She Wrote

Braydon Dungan, Writing Consultant

We write to forge and connect the thoughts we can’t seem to verbalize aloud. We write to shield ourselves from the stinging winds that exists in our minds. We write to thrive in a world different from ours, a world controlled by the fingers that eagerly smack into the different squares on our keyboard. Yet, possibly most importantly, we write to bring attention to issues we view as unjust and unsatisfactory. Political and social engagement isn’t solely attained through protests and marches; in fact, one of the easiest and most impactful ways a concerned citizen can make their voice heard is through a medium with no audible voice at all: writing.

One area of life I am especially interested in is women’s sports, specifically women’s soccer. The United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) has consistently been ranked as the number one team in the world for many years now. Not only that, but they’ve also been the winners of the 2015 and 2019 Women’s World Cup. Compared to their male counterparts, who have never won a World Cup, the women have exceeded expectations year after year to continue their reign as the queens of women’s soccer.

However, despite their continued dominance, the women have been severely underpaid compared to the men. Despite support from millions of Americans, including United States President Joe Biden, U.S. Soccer continually denied the women’s claim to equal pay, and even took the women to federal court in an effort to settle the dispute once and for all

One of the most effective ways the U.S. women garnered worldwide support in their fight, aside from their multitude of impressive performances they displayed, was a public letter to the U.S. Soccer Federation in response to a letter from former U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro. In this response, the USWNT tackled the untrue claims spewed by the federation and publicly announced their support for a new presidential candidate, Cindy Parlow Cone. In this letter, the USWNT utilized language that was firm, confident, and demanding of respect. Although women in our society are expected to be docile, socially submissive, and unaggressive, the letter from the USWNT showed their prowess and their desire to achieve equal pay. By publicly stating their discontent with the U.S. Soccer President, and instead announcing their support for a female candidate, they secured a big boost in morale in the fight for equal pay.

After the votes were tallied for the U.S. Soccer Presidential Election, the results indicated that Cindy Parlow Cone would replace Mr. Cordeiro as the presiding official of soccer in America. Just six months after the letter was released to the public, the USWNT were finally given what they’ve deserved for many years now. After years of mediation and negotiating, the U.S. Soccer Federation and the newly appointed President agreed to sign a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the USWNT to ensure equal pay for both American male and female national team players. After the USWNT’s game against Nigeria on September 6TH, the Federation and the women’s team signed the CBA in front of thousands of fans who cheered and chanted along with the players.

The letter the USWNT wrote to publicly take a stance on the issue of equal pay was a defining moment for women’s sports around the world. In response to the USWNT, many European teams also sent letters to their federations demanding equal pay. Following in line with the U.S., nations such as Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, and more demanded in writing that they be paid the same as their male counterparts. Instead of negotiating behind-the-scenes, these women publicly announced their discontent, further gaining support from fans around the world.

By writing these letters in a demanding, assertive tone, the women have been successful in voicing their opinions and forcing responses from their federations. Finally, after many years of fighting, the U.S. Women have finally secured what they’ve deserved since the beginning of the USWNT: equality. The question, now, shifts to something else: why did it take this long to achieve equal pay? We’ve seen the power of writing to force those in power to make important decisions. Writing allows us to take the time to methodically select the words that carry the most power while organizing the structure to best illustrate the issues at hand. Women, specifically, have been expected to remain complacent for centuries; let us all learn from the tenacity of the USWNT and recognize the power behind writing to achieve equality for all.

Morgan, Alex. “USWNT Endorsement of Cindy Parlow Cone.” Twitter, USWNT, 4 Mar. 2022, https://twitter.com/alexmorgan13/status/1499880750224535553.